Taking Scalps

I see Bad Dems. Walking around like regular Dems. They don’t vote for progressive policies. They only vote what their donors want them to vote. They don’t know they’re Bad.

The scourge of Bad Dems has been a perennial problem. For too long, Democrats tolerated kowtowing to the banks and to an increasingly hawkish foreign policy establishment. This culminated with the anointing and subsequent defeat of Bad Dem Queen Hillary Clinton last November. For those hoping that the Most Qualified Candidate Ever losing to a senile reality TV pervert would break the spell, I have bad news for you: the Bad Dems soldier on. They are like zombies, lurching from bank bailouts to drone strikes to Market-Based Solutions without pausing to consider why everything they touch turns to ash.

That’s over now. Lack of introspection was a luxury of the Obama years. With the dawning of the Age of Trump, we can no longer ignore the rot at the heart of the Democratic Party. Wresting the party from the hands of the donor class is the absolute most important thing we can do right now. It is an essential first step to defeating Trump. The perpetual Trump scandal machine is doing an excellent job of blunting his agenda, but it cannot defeat the GOP by itself. The GOP can only be defeated at the ballot box, and to do that, we must have our house in order. We have a year and a half until the next election.

Leftists have been calling for primarying Bad Dems forever. The counter-argument, such as it is, has always been “But that’s sacrificing electability!” As though milquetoast, center-of-the-road neoliberalism is what the people want. That argument was poisoned, shot, stabbed, clubbed, wrapped in a rug and drowned in the Neva last November. Electability is important, and should be a consideration — but the centrists don’t have it and never did. Now is the time to ignore their feeble protests and make a list. A strategy of aggressively primarying incumbents to drive the party ideologically rightward worked for the Tea Party. It concentrated political power in the hands of people whose beliefs are wildly outside the American mainstream. I hear the alt-center whinging that “we don’t want to be a left-wing Tea Party!” Well, why not? The Tea Party won. They control all three branches of government.

With that in mind, we should remember that a simple “toss them all out” approach doesn’t work. We shouldn’t just recreate the Tea Party: we should learn from their mistakes. Chief among them are nominating whomever makes the right noises regardless of their actual intelligence or ability to get the job done. A close second is turning on politicians just because we don’t like them. We should primary a Bad Dem when we 1) think a Good Dem could win that seat and 2) have a Good Dem to put up to it. With that in mind, here are some good targets to focus on.

Dianne Feinstein

Who she is: Feinstein is almost the ur-Bad Dem. A California Senator since way back when, she’s also been Mayor of San Francisco (taking over after Dan White killed George Moscone).

What she’s good on: Gay rights (though back in her mayoral days, she vetoed domestic partnership benefits) and, sort of, gun control, if that’s important to you.

What she’s bad on: Jesus, where to begin? Feinstein’s the ultimate nanny-stater who never met a government surveillance program she didn’t like. She voted for the Iraq War and sponsored the PATRIOT Act, calling it “vital.” She consistently votes for more surveillance and less oversight. She’s in favor of capital punishment and very “tough on crime.” She also helped down an amendment preventing the government from interfering with state medical marijuana laws; she is definitely in for the War on Drugs. She hates free speech and cosponsored an amendment to criminalize flag burning and COICA. She wants whistleblowers severely punished and called for the arrest and extradition of Snowden. She sponsored the PERFORM act requiring DRM. The list goes on.

Why she’s got to go: I mean, look at the above. Her military contractor husband Dick Blum is as bad as she is; he threatened, in his capacity as UCal regent, to sic his wife on the university if they didn’t incorporate language making criticism of Israel on campuses hate speech. More importantly, this is California. You don’t need to compromise Democratic values to get elected. An avocado with a D next to its name would win in California.

Who to replace her with: Eric Garcetti, Mayor of LA, would be an obvious choice. He’s not a full-throated Bernie backer, but he’s good on immigration and minimum wage issues. Ted Lieu is another good choice; he’s been willing to speak out against US support for warmongering abroad and in favor of digital privacy, two things Feinstein will never, ever do.

Tom Carper

Who he is: Carper is a Delaware senator, former Delaware Representative, former Delaware governor, former Delaware treasurer, etc. etc. Delaware is tiny and its politicians tend to play Musical Chairs.

What he’s good on: the environment, bailing out the Post Office (this is important, guys, more on this in a later piece). Also pro-DREAM and SCHIP.

What he’s bad on: Carper is a wholly owned subsidiary of the financial sector. The way he talks about the deficit would make Paul Ryan blush. He loves charter schools and wants to make it harder to join a class action suit. He’s Mr. Free Trade, but not Mr. Minimum Wage Increase. He’s fought hard against financial regulation with his so-called “Credit Card Amendment” in 2010. He doesn’t like the idea of an independent Internet (can’t monetize that!) so cosponsored the “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010” aka the kill switch bill. He said that the “best jobs bill that can be passed is a comprehensive long-term deficit reduction plan” so I’m not even sure he knows what the deficit is, other than Bad Thing. He also hates “waste, fraud and abuse,” that old Republican dogwhistle for “black people using social programs.”

Why he’s got to go: He’s absolutely the epitome of the corporate, neoliberal Democrats who care more about corporations and donors than working people. He buys into and validates all of the worst Republican ideas about how to grow the economy and help their constituents. He’s not as much of an authoritarian as Feinstein, but he’s certainly not shy about plunging his fingers into anything that smells like money.

Who to replace him with: Delaware’s tough because it’s small and big money owns the state. Still, we have to cultivate talent wherever it appears. Stephanie Hansen’s victory kept the Delaware Senate blue, but she’s a little unseasoned to make a run for the US Senate. Sean Matthews and Kim Williams are both members of the Delaware House with decent progressive chops. Finally, Rashmi Rangan lacks electoral experience and may not want to run, but as Executive Director of the Delaware Community Reinvestment Action Council, she’s done a lot of good for the most vulnerable people.

Charlie Crist

Who he is: Ahhhh! AHHHHHHH! Look at this fucking guy! He’s a former Republican and former Governor of Florida, only being defeated by Nosferatu Rick Scott. He’s currently in the US House from the 13th District (Clearwater and northern St. Petersburg)

What he’s good on: He apologized for being anti-gay rights and now is ok with gay people. He also was in favor of preserving the environment right up until it started costing him money. He’s proposed regulating insurers more.

What he’s bad on: Well… he did used to be a Republican. As such he’s pro-death penalty, and has a pro-life voting record, though he’s gotten more pro-choice since becoming a Democrat. As mentioned above he abandoned his opposition to offshore drilling when oil got more expensive and it was actually costing him money to oppose it. He endorsed McCain and became a lobbyist after leaving office.

Why he’s got to go: He’s a perfect example of how the Democratic Party has absorbed neoliberals who would have been Republicans a decade ago. Crist doesn’t hate gay people or immigrants — in fact, he doesn’t seem to really hate anyone. But he’s perfectly willing to sign on to that hate if the wind is blowing the right way. He’s a weathervane with no principles except personal enrichment and aggrandizement and he will abandon the Democrats the second the Republicans become sane enough to embrace him again.

Who to replace him with: His district is D+3, so not safe blue, but certainly one that any real progressive should be able to take. This is not a statewide seat, so it would have to be a local, or someone from nearby who could move over. April Freeman is the obvious choice, a business owner from the nearby 17th district. Alina Valdes and Mike Trout are also options, but from farther away.

There’s three options. Notice I didn’t list Joe Manchin or Heidi Heitkamp here. For now, we simply don’t have an alternative who can win in those seats. Safe-seat Dems are good targets because the relative inexperience of the progressive alternative will be less of a factor, since they’re likely to win the general election regardless. We need to get our people in place in core Democratic districts, then we can start expanding to the risky seats. It might be worth threatening primaries against less-than-awful Dems like Michael Bennet of Colorado (who won’t back the Gorsuch filibuster); CO is swingy, but with Grand Wizard Sessions launching a war against jazz lettuce throughout the country, I see it slipping into the blue column over the next couple of cycles.

Go out there, progressives. Take back your party. You have nothing to lose but your Bad Dems.